Speaking to a few reporters, me among them, in Mossad HQ on January 6, 2011, the final day of his term as Mossad chief, Meir Dagan said some of the mysterious mishaps caused to Iran's nuclear program were the result of internal failures, or "troubles they bring upon themselves," as he referred to it.
"In Iran there are wise guys who are not only unwilling to take responsibility after the incident, but don't read the manuals before they begin and are certain that everything will be okay," Dagan told us. "This is a very problematic organizational culture."
On the other hand, Dagan said that damaging Iran's production processes and blocking the import of certain components may deal a critical blow to the advancement of its nuclear program. "I've been told that an average car has 25,000 different parts," he said, "and damaging some of them would immobilize the whole car." One of the reporters said: "Targeting the driver would definitely stop the car." Everyone laughed. Dagan smiled.
So what or who cut the supply of electricity to the uranium enrichment facility at Fordo? Was it an Iranian malfunction that occurred because someone did not read the manual or was it an act of sabotage - as the Iranians claim – committed by Israel's Mossad or another intelligence agency?
On September 15, Iranian authorities claimed that small charges had been implanted in equipment Tehran purchased from Siemens for its nuclear program, and a day later The Sunday Times reported that Iranian troops uncovered a monitoring device capable of intercepting data from computers at the Fordo plant. According to the report, the device, which was disguised as a rock, exploded when the soldiers tried to dismantle it.
The Iranian regime's spokespeople claimed that the plant was not damaged; however, in more than one previous incident Iran initially denied any affect on the nuclear program only to admit later that it suffered significant delays.
Indeed, the past seven years have seen several similar malfunctions. In April 2006 two huge transformers exploded at the main enrichment facility in Natanz during the first attempt to enrich uranium at the site. Fifty centrifuges that were situated near the transformers blew up, and the important experiment suffered a serious setback.
Since much of the equipment Iran purchases is illegal and can only be bought from dubious elements, the Iranian buyers cannot check its quality. An Iranian investigation found that the transformers actually worked properly, but someone had tampered with the cables that connected them to the centrifuges.
It is therefore no surprise that the Iranians are well aware that someone is trying to assassinate their nuclear scientists, burn labs, sabotage equipment deliveries and embed viruses in their computers, and they are taking extreme measures to thwart these attempts. These efforts, although they may limit the West's ability to act against the program, mainly take away from Iran's ability to concentrate on the scientific and industrial challenges, as they divert more and more resources into protecting, concealing, segregating parts of the project and so on.
This disruption of the project's timetable, is, in Western eyes, what it set out to achieve in the first place, regardless of how many power lines are cut or how many nuclear scientists are killed.
The important question the decision makers in Israel should mull over is what will be considered a victory in this covert war. It is clear that the fact that someone cut the power to a nuclear plant does not mean Iran's nuclear program has stopped, and killing a nuclear scientist (regardless of how higher-ranking he is) or embedding a lethal computer virus cannot guarantee that Iran will not produce a nuclear bomb. So – will this effort to frighten and delay ever reach a critical mass that will render the entire project inefficient, and how can the West tell whether it can rely on this spy-on-spy game, or maybe it is, in effect, no more than a game ?
The decision makers must determine the criteria for the success or failure of the clandestine effort. This will assist them greatly when the time will come for a decision on whether to call for an overt aerial attack over Iran's nuclear installations.